Monday, March 7, 2011

"A little lower than the angels..."

Bishop Kallistos Ware, writing in his book, The Orthodox Way, about the tripartite nature of our common humanity (i.e., body, soul, and spirit) says that while the human being can be viewed as body and soul, a three-fold schema is the most accurate way to understand the human person, especially in our own time because we have a tendency to confuse soul and spirit. Besides, many today seem completely unaware that they posses "a spiritual intellect." At least in the West, our educational system is solely concerned with the brain, with instrumental reasoning. Hence, we are, to a very real extent, alienated from ourselves, from God, and the world in which we live.

Body, soul, and spirit constitutes a kind of a three-in-one and, as such, serves as something of an ikon of the Blessed Trinity. Similarly, St. Augustine, the greatest among the Latin church fathers, posited that intellect, memory, and will, which together make our souls spiritual, as an ikon of the Blessed Trinity. God created two orders, the noetic (i.e., spiritual) and the material, the seen and unseen, as we say when we recite the Creed. Human beings are unique because we inhabit both orders at the same time, which makes us even superior to the angels. Beyond that, each human being, precisely because we inhabit both realms, is an imago mundi, meaning a small universe, also known as a microcosm.

I think our intensification of the spiritual disciplines during Lent is meant to remind us of all of this at a very fundamental level, to reconnect us, to make us hale and hearty, which is what the English word "holy" in essence means. In a word, the holy season of Lent should help to make us whole. Sure, we are dust and to dust we will return, but we are not only dust and, more importantly, we will rise with Christ from the ashes. In fact, in baptism, we have already done this. So, we do not enter or observe Lent as if Christ has not already conquered sin and death. Just as I go to confession knowing that I am always already forgiven, but go in order to more fully realize this for myself, I observe Lent to more fully realize that Christ has conquered sin and death in me and to help me experience in my very person the great paradox that it is only by dying to myself that I truly know what it means to be alive.

As Richard Foster observed, the reason we practice the spiritual disciplines is to gain "liberation from the stifling slavery to self-interest and fear."

By way of a preview, on Ash Wednesday, I will post a little something by Pater Tom, which he, in turn, gleaned from his study of the Desert Fathers, that illustrates more fully what Bishop Kallistos writes about, with some thoughts on the oft-overlooked distinction between image and likeness.

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